The Bill Clinton Guide to Networking

Bill Clinton could author a guide to networking if he wasn't busy already. I learned a lot about political networking from Bill Clinton — tips I use to this day in the world of business. I was in my early 20s when I worked in the Clinton White House, and I didn’t know much at the time about developing relationships. Fortunately, I had a master to learn from.

Bill Clinton really could write a whole book on how to use networking effectively, if he  wasn’t busy enough already.

(No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, I think you have to agree anyone who makes it to the Oval Office is a master at political networking.)

Here are three really powerful networking techniques Bill Clinton used as President:

1. Use Handwritten Notes

Bill Clinton mailed dozens and dozens of handwritten notes each month. He really believed in the power of sending personal notes, long before he was writing them on White House notecards.

He would send handwritten thank you’s, and birthday cards, and just “I was thinking of you” types of notes.  He would send dozens of follow-up notes each month to people he had met in person. It wasn’t just about political networking – it was about keeping up a genuine friendly relationship with a wide range of people.

As a Writer in the Office of Presidential Letters and Messages, I had a number of cool experiences. One of the coolest though was I would receive photocopies of all of the President’s outgoing mail so that we could make sure our tone was in line with his actual voice. He would even circle something in a crossword puzzle that made him think of a particular person, then clip it out and mail it to them with a note scrawled in the margin. It would just show the recipient that he was thinking about them.

How can you write more handwritten notes to people who you want to keep in touch with? If you were writing a guide to political networking in a strategic way, you would have to include a chapter on handwritten notes. They are truly invaluable.

2. Solicit Input from Others

In January 1993, shortly after Bill Clinton was sworn in to office and had traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol Building, he showed up at his new home for the next four years – the White House. One of the first things he wanted to do was to make a few phone calls. After all, you’ve just been sworn in as President, you have this cool new office and house — what else are you going to do? Call your friends!

Problem was, he wasn’t able to make any calls. Not at first anyways. It turned out you couldn’t dial out from the existing phone in the Oval Office.

White House staff eventually fixed the Oval Office phone, and Clinton was legendary for calling people often late at night and soliciting their opinion on various matters. People love to give their opinion and be really listened to, even if you’re not the President of the United States.

Are there people you want to keep in touch with whose opinions you can solicit in a respectful way, from time to time? (Though don’t abuse it; people are more likely to be OK with a call at midnight from the leader of the free world.)

3. Give Freely of Your Time

Clinton was known for spending more time on a rope line than most politicians. I was at events where the speeches would wrap up and he would spend another 45 minutes to an hour working his way up and down the rope line, shaking hands, taking pictures, and having brief conversations.

In fact, he was incredible at networking with people at face-to-face events. That’s where he really shined.

His attitude was if people came out to hear him, often waiting for hours just for a glimpse of the President, then he would try hard to make sure everyone had an opportunity to shake his hand, get a quick picture, or just wave hello.

You don’t have to be President to implement this strategy. It’s about giving the gift of your time to others. For the people on your conversation list, how can you give more of your time? How can you block out time to be together?

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, how much would you give to have a few more hours of your time together, just sitting and spending time together? In our busy world, the gift of your time is a beautiful thing.

What’s your #1 tip about networking effectively?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy my article on How to Network for Business.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    I always make a point to write hand-written letters to at least 5 people I meet at any particular event. I have never received anything but gratitude, usually followed by amazement that I actually take the time to hand-write letters. Typically, I will only write these letters to people that I know very well or have at least met several times. After going to a conference or some similar event, after I have met 50+ people, I will always try to write at least 5 of them by hand, if only to say ‘nice to see you again’. It has always been very helpful to me.

  2. Jessica Joe says:

    John, I remember when Clinton was president there were constant mentions in the press of how habitually late he was to everything: meetings, speaking events, and anything else that was scheduled to start at a set time. I suspected then (and have since learned) this trait was connected to his extraordinary ability to connect with people.

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  4. Hand written notes is the best tip one could practice thought his whole life .
    experts says that this act enhances the mind and makes one self more responsible.

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  5. Hey John, great article. I mail hand written post cards to those on my list: http://jacquelineduplessis.com/postcards 🙂

  6. James K. Smith says:

    John I thought your post was very thought provoking. The personal note section is something that every person around should take time to read. It is one of the more intimate ways to develop a relationship with someone and a lost art in the world today. Keep the great information coming.

  7. Kevin Hurley says:

    Hey John,

    Great post! My #1 tip for networking effectively is to always provide value in some way, shape or form. It could simply by sharing your connections message with your network if you believe in their mission OR letting someone know that you’re thinking about them by reaching out occasionally. Who doesn’t like a friendly note every now and then? If everyone spent some time on these actions every day, I believe the business world would be a little more friendly.

    All the best,
    Kevin

  8. Like Hanfeizi, I have terrible handwriting. I also get very bad writers cramp. So I build my network through other tools than handwritten notes:

    • A lot of conversations get started when people respond to the way I answer the business phone if I don’t recognize the caller ID: “Good morning/afternoon/evening, this is Shel. How may I make your day special?

    • I make a lot of e-mail introductions –even if I don’t benefit directly

    • Each year, I select a new and cool birthday greeting that my assistant sends out to all my contacts on their birthday (as a private message). When they thank me, I have an opportunity to reconnect and find out what they’re up to.

    Too many ways to include here. In fact, this article inspired me to write a whole blog post about this: http://greenandprofitable.com/shels-i-hate-to-write-handwritten-thank-yous-networking-guide/

  9. Ryan O'neil Knight says:

    This year it is one of my goals to increase the amount of personalized hand written notes that I send to people I want to stay in touch with.

    My one tip that I can offer that has worked for me is just following up, when I take someones business card I send them a quick note that evening when I get home touching on our conversation. If its someone that I really want to connect with I may sneak off to the bathroom and send them an email right away so I dont forget.

  10. I love this advice – particularly the section on handwritten notes. I’ve heard so many successful people mention that they write handwritten notes that I’m going to make it a part of my daily routine. It barely takes any time, yet few people do it on a regular basis.

    Thanks for another awesome post John!

  11. Sounds like common sense practices, but Bill Clinton made it and artform and the cornerstone of his omnipresent networking system. Handwritten notes put a warm touch to your communications. The effort taken, recipient reason, makes the message all the more meaningful. Thanks for letting us in on how one of most successful politicians in history got where he is today.

  12. disqus_4xu3yqI1b8 says:

    getting to know people and their families. you can send them birthday card or gifts unexpectedly , or when you meet a person, they have a child get to know the child’s interests. then if the child is say , interested in baseball, just out of the blue, send them a baseball cap or tickets to their favorite home team game. these steps will let the families know your thinking of them.

    • I love this @dustbusterz. IF people are open to it. Sometimes you get people who are kind of private and don’t want to share about their families, which is fine. But if they are open to talking about their families, then I find it’s a faster way to get to know them.

  13. Val Neighbors says:

    Great post John! I always sent handwritten notes in my previous business which quickly grew to 6 and 7 figures. Thank you for the reminder of how important it is t take the time to write as not type. I also feel that networking drains a lot of people, especially introvert and extroverts introverts so I suggest connecting with 3-5 people at each event in a deep and purposeful way. You can certainly build up a nice network of people in 1-2 years time.

  14. Diane Young says:

    When I was a little girl, my mother insisted I sit down and write a thank you note for every present I received. She said if I did that, it would pretty guarantee I’d receive another birthday or Christmas present from the sender.
    She was right! Today still I mail handwritten notes every week to family, friends, and business connections and everyone loves it. Of course, they never write back, but call instead. It would seem that we who are quick to pick up a pen and paper are a dying breed. But it’s a fact that everyone loves to get what I call “real mail”.

  15. one thought would be – get back to people in a timely manner. I have seen people who we all might think are way to busy to respond within 24 hours, get back to me within hours. More remarkable is that I hear many others comment about the same people responding to them quickly. I know one political leader that used to tell me that his model was to respond within the same day, failing that within 24 hours. I think the impression left is powerful. Thanks John.

  16. Barry Hall says:

    Brilliant post John, really enjoyed reading it and what a great experience for you. I am now retired from sales apart from my part time job at Costcos in Leeds so my best Networking is making sure our members are happy and I make sure they are. – Barry.

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